Why are political disagreements today so disagreeable?

Political arguments, even within the family, are nothing new: Think the hippie era, the Vietnam War and the time Sis announced over Thanksgiving dinner she had joined a free-love commune near Taos.

Ever since the last presidential election, though, disagreements have become more rancorous, even seemingly unbridgeable. 

I know people who avoid family visits for fear of shouting matches over politics, particularly when Uncle Bob has had his usual one-too-many. Stew and his brother, the latter an avid fan of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, recently reached a détente—no more barbs about politics, in particular race relations or guns. Period. Cordial conversations about about cars, pets or hurricanes are fine, but race and guns are not.

The lightning-fast growth of the internet, and the so-called social media, during the past twenty years or so, certainly have fed, perhaps even created the current climate of acrimony. The internet can open the door to credible information as well as loony rants.

Yes, my dear friends, there is a Flat Earth Society, a forum for “free thinkers” propounding “alternative science.”

Does that include “alternative facts” à la Kellyanne Conway? I skimmed the Flat Earth website and detected a certain facetiousness. Not so sure about Kellyanne. 

Twenty-four-seven cable news also has helped close minds rather than inform. Left-wingers go to Rachel Maddow, and right-wingers gravitate to Sean Hannity, though in fairness to Maddow she has a vastly better record for accuracy.

People hear what they want to hear. I’ve watched them both. Now with cable news we have outlets devoted to pandering to our biases.

Today people inhabit impenetrable political bubbles. In the church Stew and I attend, there are some alleged Trump supporters and far-right congregants. “Alleged” not because their political preferences are not allowed but because no one wants to trigger unpleasant disagreements.

There was even a rumored invitation-only gathering of Trump supporters before the election, that  didn’t make it into the weekly church bulletin. Who knew? Not me, since people I tend to socialize with generally can’t stand Trump.

The Tweet Meister penchant for outright lies and igniting distracting and fatuous arguments certainly feeds the polarization of American political discourse. I remember arguments about Dubya and his administration but not the level of vitriol we suffer now.

Jack Hanna for president!

Sometimes it feels as if everything has become polarized, including the formerly mellow comedy and late-night shows. Without exception those shows have turned monologues into shrill liberal rants that are too much even for shrill liberals like Stew and me.

Where’s Jack Hanna and his animals from the Columbus Zoo when we need them?

Over the past few months I have tried to poke through my admittedly progressive bubble, but that’s hard work. It forces me to process information critically instead of swallowing the usual liberal lines without chewing.

The New York Times, that failing newspaper so despised by Trump, actually has made some moves to balance its bench of opinion columnists, to include people like conservative Bret Stephens. He was supposed to have questioned climate change theology in a previous life and his appointment caused a minor kerfuffle among the Times’ touchy liberal hordes.

The Times’s editor periodically will also run digests of news articles from conservative publications on a particular issue.

I have tried, really hard, to read Breitbart News and visit Alex Jones’s website but their tendentiousness is so blatant and predictable it defies credibility. At the other end I find the Washington Post news coverage nowadays so relentlessly anti-Trump that lately it’s begun to bug even me.

This state of affairs is not good for American democracy, which encourages opposing points of view but also a civil common ground. The optimist in me believes our system also has a built-in gyroscope that eventually helps temper the political conversation. I hope that damn gizmo kicks in soon.


5 thoughts on “Why are political disagreements today so disagreeable?

  1. For me, the secret is to stop watching and reacting to that stuff.I do now watch 30 minutes of news. That is it! I moved to Mexico for a reason and quite frankly, have no intention of moving back North of the Border……


  2. Well stated, señor Al. I am pleasantly surprised — shocked even! — at your attempt to read contrary opinions. You're a better man than I. By the way, Breitbart and especially Alex Jones do not represent the best of conservative news sources, in my opinion. Fox either.I am a far-right zealot who does not get angry at opposing views. I find most leftists to be simply mal-informed. I hope they see the light one day and become realistic. Just as I did.As for Trump, he is a breath of fresh air in the White House. I am enjoying Trump Times very much.By the way, if you think the Washington Post is relentlessly one-sided, and it is, you haven't paid much attention to the Los Angeles Times which is apoplectic in its left-wing “journalism.” It's downright laughable.


  3. Anonymous

    The reason people get so upset by these discussion is that they believe that they somehow matter. Frankly, having been a voter now for nearly 40 years, I can tell you that it doesn't really matter which party is in power; they are both essentially the same. We continue down the same path to perdition. Just pick the lies you want to believe and vote. I laud you for trying to read Breitbart. Hopefully you've read enough to realize that they have just as much of an agenda as the NYT. Realizing that, you'll recognize the need to read both sides. As for climate change, here are a couple of things to consider. First, only the truly ignorant try to deny that there has been a warming trend. That is a simple matter of data, and it's pretty conclusive. Where there's a smidgen of room for debate is how much of it is caused by mankind. And where there's really a lot of quite reasonable debate is what, if anything, we should do about it. That last point is particularly difficult because climate models are frankly too complex to accurately predict the future. And though I generally believe in global warming and believe that we ought to at a minimum cut back on fossil fuel use, I also came to realize what a crock of nonsense the Paris Accord was when I listened to Trump's speech on getting us out. If you seriously believe in climate change, then half-measures like the Paris accords aren't going to do shit, but they will be quite expensive. That's the worst of all worlds because you're spending a lot and getting nothing in return, while the Indians and Chinese continue to churn out new coal-fired power plants. What sense is there in that? Really, if we want to stop global warming we can't go back to emissions levels of 2005 or 1990. We'd have to go back to emissions levels of, say, 1850. Anything less is simply a waste of money. And I've never heard of any proposals to get emissions back to some level that pre-dates the problem. There's always talk of getting back to some relatively recent level, a level which is still causing the problem. So count me skeptical of half-measures. And knowing the history of humanity, I suspect that we'll fry the planet before we change anything. I'm resigned to that. Read Jared Diamond's “Collapse,” if you want more details on the process. Saludos,Kim GRedding, CAWhose very design and layout leaves no option but driving around in a car. Or flying somewhere else.


  4. I refuse to jump in with you into a hole of political despair. Granted that my vote, or my decision to recycle aluminum cans, is not going to turn the world around but what's the alternative?Breitbart is occasionally clever but usually so twisted it's really laughable. I put them on the same Axis of Moronism as Trump and Hannity. Nowhere are they in the same neighborhood as the New York Times, which has a liberal bias but still publishes dissenting conservative voices, i.e. Brooks, Douhat and Stephens. They even have a section where they publish pieces from (sane) conservative voices.As for global warming, re-read the first sentence. Yes, the Paris Accord are largely aspirational but they still represent a recognition of the problem. I don't know about the Indians but the Chinese have recognized the connection between carbon emissions and global warming, and are taking steps to combat it, probably after Xi Jingpin took a stroll around Beijing and gagged from the fumes. Is that enough? Probably not. Should the U.S. and other advanced countries do nothing in response? Hardly. Half measures are better than no measures.Thanks for the book recommendation. Here's another one “The Sixth Extinction” by Elizabeth Kolbert, which won the National Book Award for non-fiction. (Or the Pulitzer Prize?)One final question. Just how old are you? You started voting 40 years ago, which would make you, hmm, fifty-eight at least? LOLThanks for commenting.Al


  5. Felipe: Any more I don't object to Trump's views so much (though I do, really) but to the man himself who is a consummate liar, unprincipled, unhinged and scary guy. Hell even the Republicans are scared of him. I wouldn't be so agitated these days if Trump's policy decisions came from Romney, Huntsman, Kasich or someone not in need of urgent psychiatric treatment. I would protest their views but not them personally. I agree, actually, with your desire for a new political ideas, but Trump? That's like welcoming a hurricane because the roof needs reshingling. We'll all end up in the rain.Stay away from tacos the viril. al


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